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Beyond the Books: UI's creative efforts to close gender gap in science careers

Campers test each other's reflexes and reaction times as part of a demonstration about driver safety.

The University of Iowa is no stranger to leading the way on issues of equity, in 1855 becoming the first state university in America to admit both men and women on an equal basis.

More than a century-and-a-half later, the school is continuing its proud tradition of pioneering gender equality.

The state's flagship institution has been spearheading campaigns to empower girls to pursue professions in STEM -- science, technology, engineering, and math -- occupations traditionally held by men.

Coordinators with the college are at it again, offering a week-long camp for more than a dozen 7th to 9th grade girls to learn more about potential careers.

"That exposure piece is so important," said Chelle Lehman, the director of Women In Science and Engineering (WISE). "Girls don't know what they don't know, and until they've had that opportunity to be introduced to it, they never know what's going to spark their interest."

The program took sparking interest quite literally, with a flame-candle demonstration to showcase how to measure the mass of aerosols, one of many hands-on exercises to educate the girls.

"I wasn't doing camps like this when I was that age," said Kate Crawford, a University of Iowa graduate student who offered her expertise to the young girls, "and I wish I was. I feel like it took me a while to figure out this is a career I want to be in."

Part of the Junior Scholars Institute, this is the camp's second year at the University of Iowa.

Lehman said she hopes this program empowers girls to approach any profession with self-confidence, knowing gender has nothing to do with ability.

"A lot of times, they just don't feel empowered to pursue careers in STEM," said Lehman, adding "the more diversity that we can have represented in STEM, the better our creativity, the better our outcomes."

The camp will conclude Friday.

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